A discussion with a close friend and colleague last evening about Hen Harriers caused me to ponder somewhat later on the continuing saga surrounding the lack of results arising from English bred satellite tagged birds. In a bit of a "take" on that famous expression, " England expects", one actually does really wonder what we might anticipate from the research undertaken by Natural England and when.. Such work has been funded from the public purse and I believe we are entitled to a greater amount of access to the data than is being provided at present. Clearly the senior management of Natural England are avoiding such provision to avoid political embarrassment, either to pursue some form of personal survival or at the instigation of their political masters. Remember an acknowledgement has already been issued by that agency, within its report published by its parent Ministry, DeFRA, admitting that there is a correlation between persecuted raptors and upland grouse moors. Might we then rightfully ask whether such results are being deliberately "suffocated" to protect other interests, namely those of the shooting fraternity? We are naturally concerned at the situation one might say.
Now let's dispel any confusion about the potential difficulties of such information and data being made available to the public and the level of detail that might be expected ! May I suggest a look be taken at the following ( Raptor tracking in the Cairngorms. ) which provides, or has provided, access to individual birds and the results of their movements following them being fitted with satellite tags. Much additional information besides is made available and is further bolstered by similar data and facilities on the Highland Foundation for Wildlife web site (Raptor tracking and information.). Even the much quoted Langholm Moors Demonstration Project has a web site where one is provided with some access and information to individual birds which have been tagged ( Hen Harriers tagged at Langholm ). The results arising from this latter research have been dogged by repeated analysis, criticism , praise for the realism involved and, of course, the anticipated prejudice from those who condemned the efforts from the start and have delighted in repeated doses of "I told you so" outpourings at various intervals. And yet they openly provide a form of summarised information for all to access. However, the point is that one has been able to follow the fortunes of individual birds on various web sites until the satellite transmitter has ceased to supply data. So why have no details emerged from the Hen Harrier Recovery Project research being administered by Natural England? Is our curiosity and concern for harriers, now on the verge of extinction as a breeding species in England if they have not already reached it, being viewed with contempt by the Authorities concerned or have they pertinent facts to hide with the potential for such causing embarrassment for the Tory grandees associated with the Government? With a worsening situation as far as the fortunes of this species and increasing condemnation of the shooting fraternity, within whose hallowed boundaries the illegal persecution would appear to take place, are we seeing a policy of protectionism being mounted by the agency concerned. One might naturally leap to that conclusion!
The situation is now becoming ludicrous and one shudders to think of the time being spent, and the accompanying cost, of responding to the various letters of enquiry and Freedom of Information requests which have been submitted. Surely the agency is not going to try and justify such information can never be disclosed? If so, why and what is it that is being protected as a succession of data about where birds flew to is hardly going to put the Nation at risk? Or is it perhaps a certain sector of the Nation that might have its interests placed under further scrutiny that is the basis of the prevarication and obfuscation. There has to be a reason and I suspect far more effort is going to be placed in the direction of its disclosure in the future unless some imminent change of stance is detected.